Gladiator (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: May 05, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Gladiator (4K UHD Review)

Director

Ridley Scott

Release Date(s)

2000/2005 (May 15, 2018)

Studio(s)

DreamWorks/Universal (Paramount)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: A+

Gladiator (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)

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Review

So here’s an epic tale for you – a noble Roman army general named Maximus (Russell Crowe) has just won his greatest victory against the barbarian hordes in Germania, ensuring the continued security of Rome for ages to come. But the fight has taken years, and all Maximus wants now is return home, to farm his land and live in peace with his wife and son. Unfortunately, his dying friend and Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), has one last task for Maximus to perform.

Corruption is running rampant in the Empire, it seems, and the Emperor’s only son and heir, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), is not an honorable man. Fearing the worst for Rome upon his death, the Emperor asks Maximus to succeed him, and to eventually return Rome to its people – to make it a democracy again. But Commodus learns of this and, feeling betrayed, kills the Emperor to take control before his father’s plan is widely known. Commodus then demands Maximus’ pledge of loyalty. When the general refuses, he strips Maximus of his command and has him taken away to be executed. Maximus escapes, but Commodus’ wrath falls heavily upon his family before he can save them. Bereft, Maximus soon finds himself sold into slavery as a gladiator. But in this seemingly desperate situation, he finds an opportunity for vengeance. As it happens, the new Emperor is holding gladiatorial games in the Colosseum in Rome to engender the love of his subjects. And the very best gladiators are given an audience with the Emperor himself.

Director Ridley Scott’s amazing attention to detail and his command of cinematic style and process have never served him better than they do in his Best Picture-winning Gladiator. The production design here is superb – the glory of Rome at the height of its power comes brilliantly to life on screen. Crowe is fully in his element and the cast supporting him is terrific, including not only Phoenix and Harris, but Oliver Reed (who sadly died during this production), Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, and Connie Nielsen. The script is taut and well written, giving its characters just the right motivation needed to propel the story. And the gladiator action is intense and unrelenting, while still managing to leave a lot for your own imagination to fill in.

Paramount’s new 4K Ultra HD (like the last Blu-ray edition) offers two versions of Gladiator... the original theatrical cut and the 2005 extended edition prepared specifically by Scott. Both are included on the UHD disc in full 4K via seamless branching. You choose which one to watch via the menus when you start the disc. This is one of those rare cases where more really is better, as the roughly 17 minutes of added footage actually improves upon an already great film. Much of the new material was included as deleted scenes on the previous DVD release. It serves to round out and humanize the supporting characters, particularly Commodus and Lucilla, and to significantly flesh out their motivations. Commodus is a much more effective villain as a result. There are also a number of new moments of conspiracy and intrigue in Rome that add welcome depth to the story. The extended edition intensifies the combat slightly as well.

Gladiator was shot photochemically on 35 mm film, in this case using Aaton, Arriflex, and Panavision cameras and in Super35. It’s been scanned in native 4K, graded for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and is presented here in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The result is impressive as hell – not quite perfect throughout, but as close to it as it’s possible to get with this particular film. The reason is simple: Gladiator utilized a significant amount of digital visual effects for its day which (circa 1999-2000) just didn’t have the resolution one sees today. So there are a number of shots that only marginally benefit from the upgrade to 4K (mostly due to the addition of HDR). Still… the vast majority of the film does benefit from 4K and in a big way. When the mastering team has been able to go back to the original camera negative, there’s tremendous fine detail and refined texturing visible in the image – noticeably more than in the previous Blu-ray edition – with a light-moderate amount of grain. Gone is nearly all of the annoying edge-enhancement and DNR seen in the previous editions (again, save for some of those original VFX shots, which have a soft and digitally-processed look that was baked into them at the time the film was made). The High Dynamic Range strongly deepens the shadows without crushing them and significantly boosts the brightest areas of the frame to be eye-reactive, all without losing detail. The expanded color palette enhances the image too, from the cool blue-grays and bright flames of the film’s opening battle in Germania, to the sun-scorched sands of Zucchabar, and on to the rich stone textures of Rome itself. Along the way, armor, weaponry, skin tones, fabrics, gleaming gold costume accents – all of it impresses with accurate tones that look more vibrant than ever.

Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in an object-based English DTS:X lossless mix that’s an absolute home run. It features a big and muscular mix, with an impressively large soundstage, terrific overhead immersion (in everything from atmospheric sounds to the thump of catapults in the opening), and effortlessly thunderous bass. Clarity is excellent, the dialogue is clean and discernible, and surround panning is smooth and precise. During the battle scenes in the Colosseum, you can hear the chariots race at you and around past you, with the crisp-metallic clash of swords coming from seemingly every direction and the sound of screaming crowds washing down from above. Hans Zimmer’s iconic, Wagner-inspired score elevates all of this. This is reference-quality surround sound in every respect. Additional audio options include French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Descriptive Audio, and English DTS Headphone:X, with subtitles available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Korean.

The 4K disc itself includes two special features only:

  • Commentary by director Ridley Scott, editor Pietro Scalia, and cinematographer John Mathieson (on the theatrical cut)
  • Commentary by director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe (on the extended edition)

Each has optional subtitles available in all of the languages above. The package also includes the previous 2-disc Sapphire Series Blu-ray edition (the fixed version, not the earlier one with the bad transfer). Disc One of this includes both the theatrical cut and extended edition in 1080p HD, along with the same audio commentaries. It also adds:

  • The Scrolls of Knowledge Visions from Elysium: Topic Portal

Disc Two is a special features Blu-ray that carries over all of the other extras (in the original SD – what follows are just the highlights):

  • Visions from Elysium: Topic Portal
  • Strength and Honor: Creating the World of Gladiator (8 parts – 196:50 in all, with an Enhanced Viewing Mode)
  • Production Design Primer: Arthur Max (9:34)
  • Storyboarding Demonstration (13:37)
  • Multi-Angle Comparisons
  • Storyboard Archives
  • Design Galleries
  • Photo Galleries
  • Weapons Primer: Simon Atherton (5:03)
  • Abandoned Sequences and Deleted Scenes (5 scenes in all with optional commentary)
  • The Making of Gladiator (25:03)
  • Gladiator Games: The Roman Bloodsport (50:04)
  • Hans Zimmer: Scoring Gladiator (20:42)
  • An Evening with Russell Crowe (27:15)
  • Maximus Uncut: Between Takes with Russell Crowe (8:00)
  • My Gladiator Journal by Spencer Treat Clark
  • VFX Explorations: Germania and Rome (23:50)
  • 2 Theatrical Trailers
  • 20 TV Spots

All of this material was produced by Ridley Scott’s longtime documentarian Charles de Lauzirika and it’s truly outstanding, as most of you already know. Some of this material was created for one of the DVD format’s first great special editions back in 2000 and it only got better on the more elaborate Extended Edition DVD that followed in 2005. Lauzirika was involved in preparing the Blu-ray edition’s extras too, which resulted in a couple of exclusive features that take full advantage of the format’s enhanced interactive capabilities. The first of these is The Scrolls of Knowledge interactive viewing option. When you select this, you’re treated to a trio of on-screen windows as you watch the film. One features a series of video “pods” or featurettes that you can choose to watch at any time. There are a good forty or fifty of them in all, each offering additional behind-the-scenes footage and information. The second window treats you to onscreen text with background information and other trivia. The third window leads you to the other major interactive option here, the Visions of Elysium: Topic Portal. As you watch the film, a list of topics (related to the scene you’re watching) will appear in the third window. You can select each of these, and they’ll be added to a buildable list of such selections – your player will remember them. Then, when you put Disc Two (containing all the documentary material) into your player, that list will come up again... and you’ll be able to select a “play all” option that will result in your player presenting a custom documentary made up of the material you’ve selected. Or you can go to a master listing of all the content on the disc, and select or deselect anything, or you can just select the specific items you want to view. You can also access specific content via Disc Two’s main menu, though be aware that the Topic Portal offers additional material not available in the regular documentary listing. It all amounts to many hours of bonus content about this film. If you haven’t experienced it before, every bit of it is well worth your time.

Whichever version you choose to watch, Gladiator is a terrific film that’s only gotten better with time. What’s more, it’s simply never looked or sounded better than it does here in Paramount’s new 4K edition, which boasts a greatly-improved image that’s just shy of being reference quality and DTS:X audio that certainly is reference quality. Experiences like this are what the 4K Ultra HD format is all about. Absolutely, don’t miss it.

THEATRICAL CUT: A
EXTENDED EDITION: A+

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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